I was struck by this portion of David Torrance’s latest article:
Nicola Sturgeon is fond of claiming that, during the first independence referendum, Scots were repeatedly assured by senior Unionists that the UK was a “partnership of equals” and therefore the fact Scotland voted Remain had to be recognised in the forthcoming negotiations. Now it’s a superficially compelling point, but in reality those campaigning for a No vote back in 2012-14 said no such thing.
Sure, there was lots of talk about the UK being a “family of nations”, but that isn’t the same thing as arguing that Scotland and England (and indeed Wales and Northern Ireland) somehow occupy the family home on an equal basis. The only senior Unionist to use the phrase “partnership of equals” was the former prime minister Gordon Brown, but he was talking about his (unfulfilled) proposals for a quasi-federal UK rather than the status quo.
In fact the two politicians who used that phrase most frequently were Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, usually to describe how they envisaged Anglo-Scottish relations post-independence, but subsequently the line has been attributed to their opponents, so successfully that many of my Unionist chums genuinely believe that David Cameron, Nick Clegg, et al described the UK in those terms.
Really, Mr Torrance? Nobody campaigning for a No vote in 2012-14 said anything like that? Nobody at all? Nobody advocating a No vote in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum campaign used language that could conceivably be construed as suggesting the UK was an equal partnership – not a possibility, not a dream, but the actual state of affairs?
The overwhelming majority of Scots believe in the UK and want to remain part of this 300 year long equal partnership.
– Ruth Davidson, 5th November 2011
There is more that brings us together than tears us apart. A future in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side-by-side as equal partners.
– Theresa May, Scottish Conservative Party Conference, 24th March 2012
Today we are equal partners in the United Kingdom.
– Alistair Darling, John P. Mackintosh Lecture, 9th November 2012
The UK is a union of belonging and sharing. It is a union of equals and partnership: not a contractual union or marriage of convenience.
– Johann Lamont, 22nd March 2014
If a backbench opposition MP is a “senior Unionist,” then what does that make the UK Government’s party leader in the Scottish Parliament, the then-Home Secretary (and current Prime Minister) of the United Kingdom, the leader of the official No campaign, and the then-leader of the then-second largest party in the Scottish Parliament?
Actually, it wasn’t just party leaders, campaign leaders, and Prime Ministers against independence who’ve said similar things over the years:
Scotland at present is in a commanding position as an equal partner in our great Imperial organisation. I am afraid that that position of importance would be greatly diminished by the establishment of a Parliament in Edinburgh, and for that reason I am strongly opposed to it.
– George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie, former MP for Ayr, 15th May 1914
The position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Government and this party is absolutely clear. We are determined to maintain Scotland’s full place as an equal partner in the United Kingdom and to create no bodies which would fragment or undermine that position.
– Ian Lang, former MP for Galloway & Secretary of State for Scotland, now Baron of Monckton, 26th February 1992
Still today Scotsmen – and Scotswomen – figure prominently in the political community from which our government is drawn. There are five Scots in my cabinet. They’re not there on sufferance, or in token representation of Scotland. But because union has given the English and the Scots equal freedom to rise to the top of our national affairs.
– John Major, 22nd February 1992
Has the Secretary of State considered the recent study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which shows that even if it formed a sterling zone with the UK, a separate Scotland would experience volatile public finances, inherit debts at either 70% or 80% of GDP, and face tougher constraints on levels of tax and borrowing than it does as an equal participant in fiscal union with the UK?
– Willie Bain, 22nd February 2012
The choice before the people of Scotland is straightforward: whether to leave the United Kingdom or to continue in a partnership of equals in a Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
– Margaret Curran, 15th January 2013
It is a decision for the people of Scotland and we will respect that decision, but for me it is unthinkable that Scotland would not be part of the union of nations that has been so successful in these islands, a union into which I was born and where nations stand together as equals.
– Roy Kennedy, 16th June 2014
Whatever the post-Scottish referendum arrangements are, the UK already looks more like a constitutional partnership of equals in what is in essence a voluntary multinational association.
– Wilf Stevenson, now Baron of Balmacara, 24th June 2014
We’ve mingled, married, succeeded, failed, occasionally fallen out, made up and got on. As equal partners. So why divorce now?
– George Galloway, 29th June 2014
That’s an awful lot of pro-UK Members of Parliament, Secretaries of State, Lords, and Prime Ministers referring to the United Kingdom as a “partnership of equals,” or the four nations as “equal partners.” Hopefully Mr Torrance will see fit to correct his article.
EDIT: Mr Torrance was kind enough to acknowledge this post on Twitter:
EDIT 2: My first post on indyref2.scot has just been published. It’s a further commentary on Mr Torrance’s article: it’s a wee bit more opinionated than this piece, but I figure he’s robust enough for different strokes.